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Kimbo Slice returns to MMA fighting

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Kimbo Slice has returned as a mixed martial arts fighter, and the man who once said Slice would "be the first man killed" in an Ultimate Fighting Championship contest is now his employer.

UFC President Dana White has made Slice one of 16 competitors in the company's 10th season of its reality television series, "The Ultimate Fighter."

Three former NFL players -- Marcus Jones, 35, Matt Mitrione, 30, Wes Shivers, 32 -- and former Arena Football League player Brendan Schaub, 26, are part of the all-heavyweight cast. Joining them will be International Fight League champion Roy Nelson and Wes Sims, who's fought UFC heavyweight interim champion Frank Mir twice.

A formal introduction is scheduled for this morning at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay, where the UFC will stage UFC 100 on Saturday night. The reality show will premiere on Sept. 16 at 10 p.m. on Spike TV.

"I had my opportunity to prove myself," Slice told The Times. "That door was open and I stepped through it."

With former light-heavyweight champions Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans serving as coaches, filming of the heavyweight fighting has already begun. UFC doesn't divulge results of qualifying action until it airs the fights (and behind-the-scenes drama) on cable's Spike TV.

Slice, 35, became a wonder on YouTube, beating up guys in street fights. The strip-club bodyguard possesses a menacing look with a bushy beard and steely eyes that caught the attention of ESPN and cage-fighting organization Elite Xtreme Combat, which made Slice its MMA headliner, even though he had limited experience in the sport, and used him in main events on fights aired in prime time on CBS. In May 2008, Slice broke open James Thompson's hideous cauliflower ear and won by TKO.

Later that year, however, White's poor assessment of Slice gained traction beyond just a jealous dismissal when unknown replacement fighter Seth Petruzelli knocked out Slice 14 seconds into the first round. Petruzelli sparked controversy by saying Elite XC promoters offered him money to stand up with Slice, rather than take the fight to the ground. Elite XC later went bankrupt.

Slice's popularity inspired some speculation that he'd be given an easy path to an "Ultimate Fighter" finale.

"I don't know nothing about that; these are some tough guys," Slice said. "My last fight was supposed to be easy too, and I got knocked out in 14 seconds. I knew I got the bull's-eye on my back with these guys, so I'm training hard and working to get myself in shape."

MMA veterans Mir and Joe Riggs, recently quoted as saying Slice is nothing but "an old, bald man," have also questioned Slice's ability. White insisted before this signing that he would not participate in a "freak show," allowing Slice to simply join the UFC without proving his mettle.

"That was all considered," Slice said, "but I'm here and I know it will be a challenge to prove myself."

Slice acknowledged that he fell into a funk after the embarrassing loss to Petruzelli.

"Life goes on," he said. "I need more patience in there, but I'm like most of the guys in here: confident. That's what this whole sport is about. I guess what I've learned is that people will love you in this sport, win or lose, and long as you're going to get in there and fight hard. They respect that. That's what I'm trying to do."

He'll also endure weeks of living in cramped quarters with fighters aspiring for the same goal: a six-figure UFC contract to "The Ultimate Fighter's" winner. A female viewer of the series that has helped UFC achieve some mainstream sports stature said the fighters provide great reality theater, assessing, "These guys are worse than girls."

Told that, UFC middleweight Dan Henderson, who coached a U.S. team in the most recent "TUF" series, said: "If you took away cellphones, computers and all the other comforts that we usually have and stuck everyone in the same house like we do, I guarantee you girls would be worse."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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